Sustainability initiatives are more than just a bullet point on your website for consumers. As published in Forbes in November 2016, a report by consulting firm Roland Berger found that 75 percent of consumers take corporate sustainability responsibility into account when making purchases. (1)
And they’re putting their money where their mouth is. A survey by Wine Intelligence found that consumers would pay more for sustainable wine—and are buying sustainable wine. Research by Unilever revealed that 33% of consumers choose brands they believe are doing social or environmental good. Unilever’s own sustainable goods line grew 30% faster than the rest of its business in 2015. (2)
Along with consumers’ interest in green initiatives, there is a growing demand for authenticity from businesses… meaning that just adding a pale chartreuse tint to your marketing won’t cut it. So how do you imbue every area of your business with the hue?
Even a business that requires only a computer and a desk needs the occasional mopping up. Choose disinfecting wipes based on thyme oil and EPA registered. Look for other products that incorporate natural substances instead of toxic chemicals. You can even swap out your hand and dish soaps. There are brands free of dyes and fragrances, not tested on animals, made without triclosan or phthalates, biodegradable, bottled in recycled plastic… the list goes on. USDA Certified BioBased products are a safe bet.
Today you can find an endless array of green mailing and shipping products, including envelopes and boxes made from recycled materials; recycled and recyclable cushioning; even water-activated kraft paper tape to seal those packages.
Now take it a step further: Do you even need to purchase paper, boxes and packing material? Or can you reuse what already comes through your business—the boxes in which you receive orders from Amazon or Office Depot, and the kraft paper in which your paperclips and binders are wrapped? It’s gentler on the environment to reuse rather than recycle. If your shipments need to be branded, get a stamp with your logo that states, “This package incorporates reused materials.” Customers get it. And they respect it.
Think long and hard before you order a supply of magnets or stress balls printed with your logo. Are you just sending more refuse into a landfill or the back of someone’s junk drawer? What about something that gives a consumer warm fuzzies, such as an inexpensive, branded, reusable shopping bag or Nalgene water bottle? Invest a little more in something with staying power and tell your consumers why. But tell them in ways that are green—electronic marketing, for example. And offer your clients and customers the option to go paperless with your business; make it easy, and perhaps even offer an incentive.
If you don’t already recycle paper and aluminum cans, dear friends, then we have some work to do. Assuming most of you have the basics down, let’s dig a little deeper. Still using Keurig coffee cups? There are brands that make recyclable cups—scoop out the used grounds inside and sprinkle them on your garden. Or buy a reusable filter and use your own ground coffee to save money and the environment. What kind of trash bag are you using? Most are plastic—the scourge of the planet. Biodegradable versions are available in most stores or online.
Finally, get back to the source: Before you make a purchase, consider whether you really need it. If not, save the resources that go into making and shipping that product and leave it on the shelf. If you do need something for your business, can you find a version with less packaging or share a larger quantity with a fellow entrepreneur?
If you produce consumer goods, the smart money is in sustainable. Analyze the process all the way back to its origin. Soo-Rae Hong, founder of SOURCE Denim, is a dynamic entrepreneur and a force of nature when it comes to finding better, more earth-friendly ways to create a product. She literally went to the ends of the earth to make her stylish denim totes sustainably, then brought it all home by employing immigrants in a shared maker space for the sewing. Soo-Rae is proof that every element of a production process has room for improvement.
Of course, the suggestions above are a mere starting point. We didn’t even talk about recycling printer cartridges, using mugs vs. Styrofoam and the like. You probably have a number of great tips of your own. I’d love to hear your ideas; tell me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But most importantly, tell your customers, clients and consumers about your green initiatives. Display logos and certifications that your business has earned on your website. Make sustainability a regular feature on your blog and in your newsletter. Talk about your efforts on social media. Have some fun with it—host a recycling contest for your customers and reward the winner with a branded organic cotton tee that spreads your message everywhere they wear it!
Operating sustainably has always been the right thing to do. But today, sustainable often equals successful, bringing in the kind of green that can keep you in business.
(1) John McCormick, “Do Americans Really Care About Sustainability?” Forbes Magazine, November 16, 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnmccormick/2016/11/16/do-americans-really-care-about-sustainability/#7ac1296945ae, accessed October 8, 2017.
(2) Jessica Lyons Hardcastle, “Consumers Will Pay More Money for ‘Sustainable’ Products,” Environmental Leader, January 17, 2017, https://www.environmentalleader.com/2017/01/consumers-will-pay-more-money-for-sustainable-products/, accessed October 8, 2017.
Julianne Will is an entrepreneur with a ridiculously insatiable curiosity. She’s trained as a sommelier and as a teacher of English as a second language, but most days she works as a writer, an editor, a social media manager and founder of Local Universe, an ecommerce retail business specializing in sustainable artisan goods that give back. Julianne also is a huge fan of travel, the gym and her family.